News reporters don't merely present "news." Aside from whatever biases they may have, they also shape the stories that they present in light of their beliefs and presumptions (some no doubt unconscious) about their audiences.
The framing of this local TV news report is carefully coded to suggest that the presumed viewers of the TV station's metropolitan area (KARE is in Minneapolis-St. Paul) are seeing something that's definitely outside of their own experience. This rural spectacle is carefully marked for them as a "redneck" event.
KARE's Joe Fryer begins his report this way:
Joe: The spectacle drawing hundreds to a gravel pit down this rural dirt road might make most city boys blush. But here in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin, You'll find no red faces . . .
Shot of a laughing woman in a lawn chair: Redneckfest!
Joe: . . . just proud rednecks. It may look like a demolition derby or NASCAR race, but those events feel like the opera compared to this.
At one point a fan says, "Everybody likes crashing metal and crunching steel!" But then, that's not true, is it? The reporter Joe Fryer, for one, probably doesn't like that enough to attend events like this on his own, and he's framing his report in a way that suggests his assumed audience doesn't either. It's these people who like that -- people who aren't used to explaining and elaborating on just why they like what they like.
And Joe Fryer isn't about to try to explain why they like it either. He's just there to present his viewers with this "redneck" spectacle.
Actually, I don't think I can explain why "rednecks" like these events either. I have working-class roots in my family, but I was mostly raised in a privileged, middle-class, white suburb. I thought smashing things and blowing up other things was kind of cool when I was twelve years old, but I don't anymore.
I don't mean to look down on this kind of entertainment, which seems harmless enough (and uses a lot less fuel and resources than something like NASCAR, or, for that matter, a more upscale sport like golf). I'm just wondering why some adults like it.
At one point a spectator says, "I think it's cool to legally destroy something."
Another says, "I've never seen that before. Always wanted to do it, but never seen it."
These audience members seem to be projecting themselves into the event -- they're seeing something that they'd like to do themselves. Is this violence an outlet for those who lead otherwise frustrated lives? A harmlessly vicarious "catharsis"?
I realize that I'm revealing something about myself here, something in terms of class especially. I do have rednecks in my extended family, but again, I wasn't raised to enjoy stuff like this. I was raised, by both my parents and by my larger suburban environment, to abhor violence. And to stifle my own violent urges, or find "healthy" outlets for them, like exercise or competitive sports. Who knows, maybe that stifling was too stifling. Maybe a car launch would have been a good outlet for us generally disciplined, restrained, and rather anxious suburbanites. Nevertheless, had there been a car launch like this one nearby, most of us would have avoided it, just like we avoided local stock car races and demolition derbies. Especially the adults.
As I said above, I'm interested not only in why some people like this kind of event, and the explicit, distanced framing of it by Joe Fryer as a rural "redneck" event. I also want to note the redneck pride expressed by the participants, as another example of "stuff white people do."
The news reporter also wants to note that pride, as an example of the stuff that these white people do. At the end of the clip, Fryer describes a row of lowered pants as a "redneck bow," as he asks, "How else would you end a redneck car launch?" Then a participant speaks the final words: "I am proud to be a redneck."
So there it is again, at the end of this report, like three exclamation points at the end of a sentence -- redneck, redneck, redneck.
Redneck is an identity held by some white people, but of course, it's not just a racial identity. It's also, and probably even more so these days, a class-based identity.
Americans are often described as oblivious to the realities of social class, and I think that's true in many respects. We're often unaware of just what social class is, and how a class-based hierarchy works in and shapes our society, and our own life chances. Most white Americans, when they think about their socioeconomic class status at all, describe themselves as "middle class," whether their income is forty thousand dollars per year or five hundred thousand.
But those who embrace the label of "redneck" are more aware of their class status, just as non-white people in general are more aware of their racial status, and women are more aware of their gender status -- subjugation does that to a person. Most "rednecks" know that they're near the bottom of the class ladder, and they claim to like it there. Or at least, that's what they seem to be claiming when they wave their various banners of "redneck" pride. They're taking pride in their lower-class status, as well as, usually, whatever cultural manifestations of that status happen to be going on at the moment as a demonstration of redneck culture, such as a car launch.
I can't think of another racial/ethnic group in the U.S. that has a subgroup within it that takes such an overtly class-based pride in its lower socioeconomic status -- can you?
We're often encouraged to be proud of who we are. But is redneck pride a good thing, or something that just further holds such people down, by distracting them from the real causes of their own immiseration?